Share / Discuss

Life Language

To capture the pioneering experiences of her scholarly generation—and those before—Vivian Ling ’65 spearheaded a collective project that became The Field of Chinese Language Education in the U.S.: A Retrospective of the 20th Century (Routledge, 2018).

“For the contributing authors who shared their life stories, the process led them to the realization that they had not only made a difference, but had many moments of joy along the way,” she says. “Readers may deduce from the ups and downs of this field over eight decades that academia is not an unsinkable ship. Subject to volatile forces, it requires endless nurturing to thrive.”

What did you discover?
Don’t underestimate the power of language: it embodies a culture as well as makes it accessible. Language is a powerful tool, and to wield it successfully, teachers and students need to acquire a broad spectrum of knowledge and skills.

What’s your career path been like?
Zigzaggy. I majored in math and still dream of being an architect, but I enjoyed the most fulfilling possible career in Chinese language and literature. In the past 18 years, I (with husband in tow) have moved 12 times, lived in six cities, and had three academic appointments and numerous other gigs. Confucius said it well: After 70, follow your heart’s every desire and you cannot go wrong.

What do you remember about college?
I regret not reaching out to the diverse and fertile community. One example: I didn’t realize that Russian Professor Olga Lang and I had a lot in common and I missed an opportunity to become friends with this legendary scholar who led a storied life.   

Any closing thoughts?
The most valuable thing that I learned at Swarthmore is that it is far more important to ask the right questions than to have the right answers. This nonconformist approach requires courage, and I benefited from the safe environment of Swarthmore to cultivate that courage. Finally, I would like to share that one very important part of my identity today is that I am a passionate grandmother. That may be the thing that most connects me with fellow alumni.